Wall Street In The 1860s and 1870s


Now, my boy, I will give you an idea of old Wall Street, that from the early part of the past century has been the financial center of the republic. It is rather strange and true that Wall Street has a practically unwritten history. The leaders of high finance since the sixties have been many, from Jacob Little, the first p longer of note, barring John Tobin, to the Belmonts, Morgans, Keenes, et al. The Civil War brought Wall Street into greater prominence than it ever enjoyed before. Speculation ran high in the early sixties, and when gold and silver were at far advanced premiums, postal currency and copper tokens being the medium of exchange, small piles of hard money exhibited in the windows of brokers' offices attracted sightseers like flies around a sugar barrel.

Always a teeming district of the city, there have been monetary disturbances in the historic street that have shaken the nation. Black Friday, in the seventh decade of the century was the wildest of those agitations. Merchants needed gold to release their goods in bond that were to be delivered at certain prices based on the then gold rates. Fisk and Gould secured a corner in gold with the intention of forcing the premium up, virtually holding up the merchants to great loss or possible ruin.

That fateful morning I was instructed by my employer to stand on the Treasury steps while the Gold Board was open and send a messenger back with the quotations. Broad Street was thronged by some thousands of men anxiously awaiting the beginning of the battle. it started with a rush, and within an hour staid business men, coatless, collarless, and some hatless, raged in the street, as if the inmates of a dozen lunatic asylums had been turned loose. Up the price of gold went steadily amid shouts, screams, and the wringing of hands.

I stood alongside the pedestal on which the statue of Washington now stands and heard a stentorian shout from a large man just above me. He shouted again and again until he had the attention of the people. Raising his hand he cried: "Fellow citizens, God reigns and the Government at Washington still lives! I am instructed to inform you that the Secretary of the Treasury has placed ten millions in gold upon the market!" That broke the tension and the price of gold began to fall. The speaker on the pedestal was James A. Garfield, later President of the United States and a victim of the murderous assault of Guiteau.

Then arose the cry: "Hang Fisk and Gould!" as the crowd broke for Exchange Place. The two conspirators had been warned, and jumping into a hack bade the driver reach the Chambers Street ferry at all hazards. Fortunately for them they reached Jersey City in safety, taking refuge in Taylor's Hotel, where they were guarded by Tommy Lynch and his gang. "Uncle" Daniel Drew, former cattle dealer, steamboat and railroad magnate, also "speculator," as he termed it, was mixed up in the Black Friday affair, to be cleaned out in the end by the then controllers of the Erie Railroad.

The big speculators and plungers of the sixties and early seventies were John Tobin, Al Speyer, Jay Cooke, "Deacon" White, Henry N. Smith, and A.B. Stockwell. "Hank" Smith and Jay Gould became deadly enemies through stock speculations, and Gould declared he would live to see Smith driving a dray, finally succeeding in running him out of Wall Street. Smith retired to his Fashion Stud near Trenton, N.J., where he had a fine collection of trotters, including the stallions General Knox and Jay Gould, and the famous race mares Goldsmith Maid and Lady Thorn. He took an occasional flyer on a modest scale in some stock and did not die in poverty. I got to know Mr. Smith very well and found him to be very much of a man. In fact, he allowed me to enter Goldsmith Maid in the first National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden, a concession he had refused others.

Stockwell, like the majority of his class, came to the end of his string. He took his ill fortune p philosophically and was wont to say: "When I was on top of the heap I was "Commodore Stockwell. When I was a heavy loser I was 'Mister' Stockwell. When I was dead broke and a sure lame duck I was 'that old red-headed cuss Stockwell.'" The way of the world, sonny, the way of the world.

Later the big guns of Wall Street were Rufus Hatch, Henry Keep, William M. Travers, Lawrence Jerome, A.W. Dimock, Charles Woerishoffer, and Charles Osborn. Russell Sage, originator of puts and calls, made the most of his money in commissions from small speculators, and as to loans there was never a time Uncle Russell could not furnish the where-withal on the best of security.

The open board of brokers, instituted when the country was engaged in internal strife, first met in a building on William Street near Wall. This place was dubbed "The Coal Hole," but the noise being annoying to the officials of the Custom House across the way, the board took up new quarters on Broad Street, opposite the Stock Exchange. Membership in the Stock Exchange then cost something like $10,000, but let a man try to get in now at that figure!

Among the leading bankers in the Wall Street district were Fisk and Hatch, Jay Cooke & Co., Brown Bros., Cisco & Co., Halgarten & Co., Sistare & Co., and Vermilyea & Co. Most of the brokers' offices were on Exchange Place, cubby holes, hardly large enough to get a desk and chair in, but transactions involving millions of dollars were carried out in them.

Naturally Wall Street became a favorite cruising ground of confidence men and petty thieves. To protect the street from this gentry, a police force was formed under the command of Captain Sampson and the dead line placed at Fulton Street. All well known criminals caught south of the line were either arrested or warned not to go further down. Further assistance was furnished by the city, and Broadway was regularly patrolled by Detectives Dusenbury, McDougall, Farley, Kelso, Golden, and others. Phil Farley was then reckoned to be the keenest of thief catchers, the Sherlock Holmes of his time. Kelso in after years became Chief of Police.

After the close of the Civil War a host of street merchants appeared in the Wall Street District, foremost of whom was Henry Smith, "The Razor Strop Man," who entertained the crowds attracted to his stand by speeches on current topics. Smith was a natural orator, so attractive that crowds gathered by him became so unwieldy that he was tabooed from Wall Street. He took up his stand at Pine and Nassau Streets where he did business for some years. Another prominent character was a Frenchman who had served in Napoleon's Old Guard and had the documents to prove it. He also wore the Cross of the Legion of Honor, conferred on him before Waterloo. This man had a superb bass voice and at noontimes entertained the people with the Marseillaise and other patriotic songs of his country.


Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Wall Street In The 1860s and 1870s
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Memories Of Manhattan In The Sixties and Seventies by Charles Townsend Harris; The Derrydale Press-New York 1928.
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